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Suffolk Times article February 1, 2001
Photo by J. Ahrens

History of the M.V. Commander

The Beele Wallace Shipyard of Morehead City, North Carolina, built the motor vessel COMMANDER in 1917 as a gasoline-powered ferry for service between Rockaway and Brooklyn, New York. After three months, the gasoline engine was replaced by one of the first marine diesel engines installed in the United States. COMMANDER is a rare design link between the heavily built-for-steam boats of the late nineteenth century and the more lightly built vessels of the twentieth century.

In January 1918, COMMANDER was leased by the U.S. Navy and assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to outfit submarine chasers and two barrage balloons, to protect the Rockaway Air Station from German Zeppelins. She was returned to her owners in 1919, and began a six-decade career with the Rockaway Boat Line, one of the longest uninterrupted services in excursion boat history in the United States. In 1981, COMMANDER was purchased by Hudson Highlands Cruises and Tours, Inc., who operated her out of the Haverstraw Marina, West Haverstraw, New York, as an excursion boat on the Hudson River taking passengers through the scenic Hudson Highlands to Newburgh Bay and return. In 1998 Hudson Highlands Cruises, Inc., began operating similar cruises from Peekskill and West Point.  

COMMANDER has the distinction of being the last operating vessel that served in the U.S. Navy in World War I, and joins the battleship TEXAS and the battle cruiser OLYMPIC, as the only remaining ships from that era. She displays the World War I Victory Medal as a token of her service.

COMMANDER was listed in 1984 on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and is also listed in the International Register of Historic Ships (page 279), Great American Ships (page 121)